Petha is a sweet, ethnic product, available all over India. The basic ingredient of petha is the humble pumpkin, garnished and sweetened after boiling. How it has caught the fancy of the public at large is a mystery, but its origin, say folklore, can be traced back to the royal court of Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan.
The story goes back to over 350 years, when Shah Jahan had created his famous Taj Mahal – in memory of his late and most favourite Begun, Mumtaj Mahal and wanted a food item, possibly a dessert, as white as the marble of which the Taj Mahal had been constructed.
It was a tough call, but when your emperor wants something, he gets it. Shah Jahan asked all, but that yielded no result. He then called his master architect Ustad Isa Effendi, who requested Pir Naqshbandi Sahib to make a unique dessert that has to look as pure and white as the Taj and should, of course, taste heavenly.
The royal chefs went to work, trying every item available and soon came up with this unique invention, called petha. The story goes of course, this was the elaborate version must have been presented to the Badshah that Pir had a dream where he learned the recipe from the Almighty himself. Now that the explanation had been satisfactorily provided to the Badshah, the actual product had to be as good.
So he went ahead and taught his team of 500 cooks how to make petha. As we know, it is simple enough a process, and now enjoyed by foodies across the country, and possibly by many foodies from across the globe.
As expected, the best petha is available in Agra itself, where Shah Jahan built the Taj Mahal, but about 70 years ago, one person made a new version of the petha, that has now become famous in Agra and around the world as Panchi Petha.
The Taj Mahal has assured that Agra becomes a magnet for foreign tourists, those who want to take in the beauty of the Taj, as well as the sights and sounds of the city and its surroundings. In their forays into local cuisine, they come across this Panchi Petha and many have been floored by the variety of this squishy, sugary dessert.
What is a Panchi Petha? It is a variation of the regular petha, with special garnishing and flavours, ranging from zafran to chocolate to even paan. There are flavoured pethas, and what are called ‘sandwich’ pethas.
It was the brainwave of one Panchhi Lal ji, who, at age 24, created this new version of the petha and named it the ‘Panchhi Petha”, now an established brand. That was seven decades ago, and now, while his shop in the middle of Agra – in the – there have been many duplicates vying for attention. One has to be careful not to buy from any shop that is not on the official list of such pethas.
The main head office and factory of Panchi Petha is in Noori Gate, along with the first store of Panchhi Petha. Now more than 700 cottage units in the Noori Gate area manufacture this delicacy which is a proud heritage of the historic city of Agra.
Now there are over 100 different flavours of petha available —angoori, simple dry petha, Paan, Kesar, sandwich, mango, chocolate, orange, pineapple, almond, coconut, cherry and more.
Here are some special issues about Panchi Petha.
Shelf Life: regular petha can easily last a month in the pantry and even more when refrigerated. Dry and Kesar petha needs to be used within 15 days without refrigeration and 20 days if kept in a fridge.
However, the more delicate pethas, such as angoori, paan, chocolate sandwich etc have to used within 2-3 days unrefrigerated.
Panchi Petha had registered for a GI tag in 2017, but it is still under examination by the authorities.
Ingredients of Petha
1 Kg White pumpkin (large and hard), 2 tsp Chemical lime, 3 cups Sugar, 3 cups Water, 2 tbsp Milk mixed with 2 tbsp water, 1 tbsp Lemon juice, 3-4 Green cardamoms-peeled and crushed, 1 tsp Gulab jal.
-Peel & chop the ash gourd
-Take a chopping board, peel the ash gourd (winter melon) and cut it into small pieces.
-Keep it aside in a large bowl. Once done with it, squeeze one lemon and keep its juice in a small bowl.
– Soak pricked ash gourd pieces in alum water
-Take the ash gourd pieces and prick them using a fork. Take a large pan and fill it with water, put the pricked ash gourd pieces in it and add alum powder.
-Put the pan over medium flame and let it boil for about 12-15 minutes.
-Once boiled, take it off from the flame and drain the water. Rinse the pieces thoroughly under cold water.
-Prepare sugar syrup & add cooked ash gourd
-In a pan, take about 2 cups of water and add an equal amount of sugar to it and cook over medium flame. Once the sugar gets completely dissolved in it, add lemon juice to the sugar syrup and put the flame to low setting from medium.
-Now, add the cooked ash gourd to it. Cook until the ash gourd completely soaks up the syrup.
-Arrange homemade petha on a tray & let it cool
-Take off the pan from the flame and put the pethas in a tray or a plate separately because otherwise, they will stick to each other. -Let your homemade petha cool down before you serve it.